By Julian McPhillips
Senior Partner McPhillips Shinbaum Law Firm
I must respectfully disagree with the Advertiser’s editorial opinion that the grand jury’s no indictment in Ferguson, Missouri deserves deference. The reason it does not is because of the prosecutor’s extremely close ties to the police, and the one-sided nature of a grand jury presentation. It’s the fox guarding the hen house. No one represented the slain victim inside the grand jury room.
America is in dire trouble if a fairer method of determining criminal liability of a police officer shooting and killing an innocent and unarmed civilian is not reached. As national columnist Dana Milbank has proclaimed, “the Missouri prosecutor is the face on injustice.”
Worse than Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida, and Michael Brown’s killing in Missouri, is what happened recently in Alexander City, Alabama when an innocent, 21 year old African- American male was killed by local police.
Emerson Crayton, Jr. was the victim. After getting off from work, Crayton stopped at the Huddle House, the only restaurant open after midnight in Alex City. Father of a 2 year old girl, young Crayton had no gun or weapon on him. He was simply hungry, and wanted something to eat. A white waitress, unhappy with Emerson’s voice, hurled the “F” word at him. Crayton returned the description, and left Huddle House, telling it to keep its food and money.
According to multiple eye-witnesses, and ear-witnesses, not one did Emerson speak any threatening words towards anyone at the Huddle House. Yet, as Mr. Crayton was leaving, a Huddle House employee followed him, screaming at him while calling for a police officer next door. In response, a young white Alex City police officer came running over. Never identifying himself as an officer, he shot Mr. Crayton five times, killing him. An investigation by the Alexander City police confirmed that Mr. Crayton had no weapon.
Eye-witnesses say Mr. Crayton was not aware of the policeman’s presence in the dark of the night. The victim had committed no crime. He was not a fleeing felon. He was not speeding away down a highway, nor was he threatening the safety of others. Mr. Crayton’s windows were up, and his car doors shut, with music impairing his hearing. Young Emerson never had a chance. Two days after the killing, one Huddle House owner was overheard by a Caucasian customer as saying, “that’s one dead nigger out of the way.”
Alexander City and neighboring Dadeville, where Mr. Crayton lived, are in an uproar over the innocent killing of this young African American male, with nothing being done about it. Over 1000 blue t-shirts were sold the first week afterwards, with the words “No Justcice; No Peace.” Almost a thousand attended his funeral. Hundreds have marched on the Alex City police station to demand justice. The community has absolutely no faith in law enforcement or in the Tallapoosa Count DA’s Office. To the credit of civil rights leaders, no violence has occurred, as compared to Ferguson, Missouri.
Unlike George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin’s case, this was not a “stand your ground defense.” The policeman was not attacked by Mr. Crayton, and multiple witnesses say the officer was never endangered by Mr. Crayton’s car. Yet, the local District Attorney quickly closed ranks behind the policeman, with whom his office works regularly. Like Ferguson, like Alex City a grand jury returned no indictment. Family and friends and many others, especially in the African- American community but many Caucasians as well, are incensed at what they perceive as a cover-up.
Lawyers say a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich if he wants to. Conversely, great crime can be whitewashed. I expect Montgomery County’s outstanding district attorney form this rule, but do not expect the DA’s of Ferguson, Missouri and of Alexander City, Alabama.